For many of us, our air conditioning system is the only way to cope with the hot summer weather. So, when the worst happens, and your AC unit stops working, what should you do? Pay for a repair or replace it altogether?

There is no clear cut answer for this dilemma, but here we’ll explore some of the considerations to help you make your decision.

The Basics:

Many homeowners look to repairing their AC unit if it stops working, but this isn’t always the best choice. Although repairs tend to cost less upfront, there are no guarantees. You may end up spending a few hundred dollars now and then be faced with another repair bill in a few month’s time. Replacing your unit does involve a higher upfront cost, but you’ll have the protection of a manufacturer’s warranty should anything go wrong.

This makes for a difficult decision, but there are some factors that can help you to decide.

Equipment Age:

The age of your equipment is perhaps the most important factor to consider. According to Department of Energy data, air conditioning units have an average lifespan of 15 to 20 years. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean that if your air conditioner is less than 15 years old, you should opt for a repair. In fact, if your unit is 10 years old or older, you may be pleasantly surprised at how much more efficient a new unit would be. New equipment will cost more, but you can save money each month on your energy bills, which will offset this initial cost.

Another important consideration for the age of the equipment is the cost of replacement parts. As models become older, manufacturers limit support, so you may find that spare parts are harder to find and more expensive. In this scenario, you may find that replacing your AC unit is more cost effective.


Air conditioners have a closed refrigerant system, and if your unit requires additional units, it is a sign that you have a coolant leak. There are different types of refrigerant, and they are not the same. Newer AC models use R-410a refrigerant, which is considered far more environmentally friendly than other refrigerant types. Older units tend to use R-22, which is being phased out and, as a result, becoming more expensive.

If your AC unit needs R-22, or Freon, it can cost as much as $175 more per pound, plus labor costs. This could add $1,000 to your HVAC repair bill.

It is also important to recognize that R-22 will not be available legally after 2020, so if your unit has a refrigerant leak and requires R-22, it should be replaced rather than repaired. 


We’ve touched on this above, but if your energy bills continue to rise, while your electric company rates stay the same, you will need to look at whether your unit is worth repairing or replacing it with a more efficient model.

There are resources, such as the Energy Star Home Energy tools, that can assess the efficiency of your home. It will help you to decide whether you can offset the initial cost of replacing your older unit. If you’re planning on staying in your home for 7 or more years, the savings from a more energy efficient unit will more than cover the upfront initial cost.

According to HomeAdvisor, a new unit could save you up to 40 percent of your home cooling costs.

Repair Costs:

Another important consideration is the cost of your repairs. Cost is one of the biggest factors when deciding between a repair and replacement, so your decision may come down to the dollars and cents.

A rule of thumb is that if you will be spending the next ten years in this home, a replacement is a good idea. But, if you will be moving in the next ten years, a repair may be more cost effective.

Just bear in mind that $100 here and $200 there will add up. So, if you find that you’re calling in an HVAC technician every month or two to make repairs, then it may be time to stop nursing your AC unit along and take the plunge with a replacement.

Consider the $5,000 Rule:

HVAC technicians have a $5,000 rule that they use to make the right decision for repairing and replacing an AC unit. In simple terms, you need to multiply the repair estimate by the age of your unit.

For example, if your repair estimate is $500 and the unit is 4 years old, the total is $2,000. In this scenario, a repair is advisable.

If your repair estimate is $1,000 and the unit is 10 years old, the total is $10,000. So, in this case, a replacement is the best option.

Consult an Experience Professional:

If you’re still struggling to decide whether a repair or replacement is the best option, rely on the expertise of an experienced professional. An experienced technician can assess your system to determine the extent of the damage and advise you of the potential costs and replacement options.

Of course, it is important to choose a reputable HVAC technician. If you currently don’t have a relationship with a company that may have completed previous repairs or maintenance, it is a good idea to obtain a couple of quotes. Some disreputable companies will try to coerce you into more costly repairs, when it would be more cost effective to replace your unit. Conversely, some companies will try to pressure homeowners into an upgrade when the system can be effectively repaired. Obtaining a couple of quotes will allow you different points of view, so you can make a more informed decision.

If you’re unsure if your AC unit can cope with the summer weather or you’re experiencing repair issues, be sure to contact your local HVAC specialist. A reputable and experienced technician can assess your equipment to help you determine if a repair or replacement is advisable and guide you through the available options.